Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Canada Is Watching Rapidly Mounting H7N9 Case Count, but Still Feels Risk Is Low

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Canada Is Watching Rapidly Mounting H7N9 Case Count, but Still Feels Risk Is Low

Article excerpt

Canada watching new flu, feels risk still low

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TORONTO - The number of H7N9 bird flu infections continues to climb rapidly in China. But the Public Health Agency of Canada says it believes the risk the virus poses to Canadians remains low.

The agency's director general for immunization and respiratory infectious diseases said Canada is monitoring the situation in China, and continues work on an update of the national pandemic preparedness plan that was begun in the aftermath of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.

"We're very interested and watching very carefully what is going on in China," Dr. John Spika said Monday in an interview.

"But the bottom line is that until the virus demonstrates some ability to more efficiently spread from person to person it remains something that we're very interested in, watching carefully but still consider to be a low risk."

Since the new H7N9 virus emerged last spring, there have been about 277 cases diagnosed; 63 of the infections have been fatal. After several months with no infections over the summer, new cases began to pop up in the fall as temperatures went down and conditions for the spread of influenza viruses improved. Since then, there have been 142 new cases, and 18 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Spika said the recent diagnosis of a case of H5N1 bird flu in Alberta is a reminder that hospitals and public health officials across the country should be on the lookout for infections with novel flu viruses in people with a travel history to China.

The woman, who died from her illness, is believed to have contracted the virus while visiting China.

"It's quite possible that the same thing may occur with H7(N9)," Spika said, referring to the possibility that infected travellers may bring the virus to Canada. But he said the fact that surveillance efforts picked up the H5N1 infection leads the Public Health Agency to believe H7N9 cases would likewise be detected.

Spika said a lot of work has been done on the national pandemic plan since 2009. In particular, an effort has been made to make the document more flexible so that authorities can react with greater ease to the particulars of the next pandemic. …

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